Japanese mascot goes abroad on business trips

Japanese mascot goes abroad on business trips
Chicchai Ossan with Thomas Sirdey.

Kumamon, a popular official mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture, will make its overseas debut as the prefectural government has recently announced it will allow overseas sales of licensed Kumamon products.

Kumamon is a yuruchara, or cute mascot character designed to publicize prefectures, cities and other entities, officially and unofficially. Among these characters, Kumamon in particular has been a big hit. According to the prefectural government, Kumamon products will be targeted at China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and European Union member countries.

Chicchai Ossan (Small middle-aged man), an unofficial mascot character of Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, will make a guest appearance at the 15th Japan Expo in Paris, a large-scale Japanese pop culture event to be held July 2 to 6.

In May, the mascot character attended a press conference in Tokyo for the Paris event with Thomas Sirdey, a cofounder of the event.

The event was started in 2000 by enthusiasts of the Japanese culture in France, including Sirdey, who said he is a fan of Japanese manga and anime such as "Akira."

According to Sirdey, the inaugural event drew about 3,200 people. However, last year's event attracted about 230,000, and this year about 260,000 visits are expected. This year's event will also feature traditional Japanese culture, such as washoku cuisine. "I hope many Japanese people come to see how various genres of Japanese pop culture are accepted and loved by French people," Sirdey said. "It will probably give you some hints of making inroads to the international market."

Meanwhile, Funassyi has brought a handsome fortune to an NTV subsidiary. Products based on the famous unofficial mascot character of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, sold very well recently. Sales of Funassyi products through NTV Service Inc. amounted to about ¥868 million last fiscal year, according to NTV. The operating profit after deducting personnel and other costs was estimated at ¥220 million, accounting for about 90 per cent of the affiliate's profit.

Funassyi products are sold by several other companies, too.

The prefectural government made the decision because Kumamon's trademark registration has progressed to the point at which it can adequately cope with the distribution of fake products.

To sell the products, businesses must be headquartered in the prefecture or deal in products of the prefecture. They are also required to obtain permission from the prefecture and submit an application. The prefecture will begin accepting applications on June 9.

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